While Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline may have been written by George F Walker based solely on the plot summary of a book, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without substance. And not a few laughs.
“It’s dense, its language-based, and a period piece, but it has this flavor to it that makes you wonder how Walker took a synopsis with these names and the essence of these characters and create this incredible, basically timeless piece,” says Jennifer Copping, who directs the upcoming production at The Cultch later this month.
Loosely based on writer Percy Shelley’s Gothic novel “Zastrozzi: A Romance”, it is a tale of revenge as it tells the story of the criminal Zastrozzi, who seeks to avenge his mother’s murder.
“It is man’s quest to absolve his own guilt about his mother’s death, and it delves into the madness that that can be created for someone when they have so much guilt that they can’t address,” explains Copping. “It’s done in a really satirical and surreal kind of way, and then on the flip side we have themes that are basically things that the world is going through now.”
Despite having been written by a Canadian in 1977, set in 1893 Italy, and based on a book published in 1810, according to Copping at least, Zastrozzi still holds a great deal of relevance for audience’s today.
“When you see it or read it you go ‘this feels like now’ in terms of things that people are fighting for and issues that women are going through in politics,” says Copping. “It may be set in Italy in 1893, but it feels very current.”
Actor Starlise Waschuk, who will play Zastrozzi’s love interest Matilda in the play, agrees.
“It’s timely because even words like ‘followers’ have changed,” says Waschuk. “Like the idea of followers on Instagram, Zastrozzi also has followers, and this narcissistic idea relates more now than when it did when it was first written.”
“Once you really get inside these characters, they’re all a little bit insane, and when you hear parents and artists today talk about this sort of madness we’re all having with the obsessions we have with social media and success, it really feels current,” adds Copping.
But while much of Zastrozzi sounds deadly serious, Copping and Waschuk also want audiences to know it is also very funny.
“I would say dark comedy,” says Waschuk. “I believe the comedy comes from the truthfulness and use of language and honesty.”
“I’ve never laughed so hard in a rehearsal period,” adds Copping.
Helping to bring it all together on stage is a company of six actors that, besides Waschuk, also includes Brikett Turton, Giacomo Baessato, Massimo Frau, Alissa Hansen and Emmett Lee Stanga.
It was a cast assembled by Waschuk long before bringing Copping onboard to direct.
“I’ve known these people through classes, and independent work,” says Waschuk. “Everyone is very much, I think suited to their role. It’s pretty cool actually.”
A bit unusual perhaps in having a show pre-cast before agreeing to come on as director, Copping says she did not hesitate after having been recommended for the job by one of Waschuk’s acting coaches.
“I read the script within 24 hours of Starlise sending it and I was laughing out loud and also having to go back and re-read things because it’s heavy,” says Copping. “I knew right away that this was next level for me, this was something I wanted to tackle. I believe in the power of a combined passion, and could tell from talking to Starlise that everyone that she had assembled had the same passion for this piece that she had, and I quickly had it too.”
A very physical play, the production also boasts two fight directors, Mike Kovac and Ryan Boltan, called in to work on the show’s seven fight sequence.
“It’s one of the reasons why I chose the play,” says Waschuk, who holds a black belt in karate. “Not only because I wanted to produce a comedy, because I think everyone can use some laughter in their lives, but there’s also something really enjoyable about being physical as an actor.”
Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline opens at The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab on June 13 and continues through June 21. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.